The first years in life are of critical importance to develop cognitive and social skills and to learn. Promoting the inclusion of children with special educational needs (SEN) at this stage putting together in learning contexts children with and without impairments is crucial to ensure an inclusive society. Yard4All promoted the inclusion of children with SEN by creating and managing schoolyard gardens that trained math and science skills outside the classroom, as well as sustainability, business, and marketing for children through a peer-to-peer model approach.
Another goal of the project Yard4All - Using School’s yard for ALL child’s well-being and development, was to invest on the qualification of teaching and learning, setting up a network of inclusive schools and inclusive community organizations. This was set up and tested by a consortium of 3 schools, 2 universities, 3 NGOs, 1 foundation and 1 enterprise.
More specifically, the project aimed:
to improve the learning quality of children, using non-formal learning and teaching environments to: promote more social contact between pupils with SEN and pupils without impairments; develop innovative learning processes guided by flexible curricula;
to strengthen professionals’ attitudes, skills and abilities, providing them training opportunities aligned with national- and local-level policy goals for and understandings of inclusive education;
to use an alternative learning environment - school yards - to create an innovative methodology to develop ALL CHILDREN mathematics, science and other competences (e.g., entrepreneurship and creativity);
to build on the existing resources following the principles of permaculture in the economy of hydric resources, soil conservation, activation of the microbiological fauna and plague protection;
to increase the parents’ and community’s participation by organizing local fairs of agro-products in order to raise financial resources for the sustainability of the project (sell seeds and products, implementing principles of the Fair Trade). The objective is to use the yard of the school as a tool to increase teachers skills and bring all children together. This is an opportunity for formal (STEM) and non-formal education as well as quality and inclusive education.
While it is true that many schools have a garden for their students, mostly for promoting sustainable habits, the novelty of Yard4All was the introduction of a peer-to-peer model, in which children without impairments worked as mentors for children with SEN, as a way to promote inclusion and social interaction.
The Yard4All project was implemented with financial support of the European Commission by the Erasmus + Programme (Grant Agreement no. KA201-8A5F302D). It was active from September 2019 to August 2022, and brought together institutions from Portugal, Spain, Romania, Hungary, France, and Norway. During this period, the project produced five intellectual outputs (IO), namely:
IO1 - Open Digital Platform (i.e., project's website)
IO2 - Child-to-child peer support model
IO3 - Business & Marketing Game for children
IO4 - Guide for using mathematical concepts on school yard
IO5 - Guide to develop science concepts on school yard
All materials are available on the project's website.
Summary and examples of the IO (click to expand)
Besides these IO, the project developed a Community of Practice that exchanged good practices and training to implement the project through several online meetings putting together teachers and other professionals. More, some of the partners extended the school yard's impact to their community. For example, in Romania and Hungary, the institutions organized markets in which the children sold the produce they cultivated in their gardens. In Portugal, the project was recently divulged at the 2022 European Researchers' Night, with activities for children that aimed to mimic those developed in Yard4All gardens. According to the researcher Joana Alexandre, from the Center for Psychological Research and Social Intervention (CIS-Iscte), this project brought to light very positive experiences promoting inclusion and sustainability in different schools through non-formal educational tools focusing on permaculture, as well as positive and inclusive relationships between children with and without SEN. Qualitative data also showed that the project strengthened teachers professionals’ attitudes, skills and abilities, providing them training opportunities aligned with national- and local-level policy goals for and understandings of inclusive education.
For future directions, Joana Alexandre points out the need to further test the model in a systematic way across more schools. She also adds that the future dissemination of the project will involve promoting the materials produced in other schools and educational entities. Training for the implementation of these models and materials may be another strategy to be adopted.